One of my favourite ways to add classic perennial flowers to my garden is by rescuing plants from old houses, homesteads and gardens. Many of my perennials were not purchased, and instead were saved during the process of renovating nearby houses and renewing overgrown landscapes. Not only is transplanting classic perennials a low-cost way to populate my own garden, but it preserves these varieties which have often survived and thrived despite little care or maintenance in recent years.
Many perennial flowers in mature gardens come with fascinating histories or with sentimental value. It’s always nice to hear how a grandmother’s peonies have been passed down through the generations or how roses were originally planted by homesteaders. Here are five of my favourite perennials to save the next time you’re renovating an old garden.
This old rose lives in the river rock foundation of a homestead farmhouse that is long gone.
Roses are a classic perennial flower. Many of us have memories of the lovely scented garden roses grown by grandparents, other relatives and neighbours. Old-fashioned roses can often be found around the perimeter of old farmhouses and cabins. I’ve found both small rose shrubs and climbing roses in with the weeds around old structure foundations.
Here in Canada, I transplant roses in the early spring during the end of winter dormancy. To transplant, carefully dig up the rose bush once the ground has thawed but before the plant has started to green up. That being said, it is possible to move a rose plant during the growing season, especially if that’s the only option.
If transplanting the rose isn’t practical, roses can also be propagated by taking cuttings. I always take a few cuttings of anything sentimental or hard to get just in case one or two cuttings don’t take!
These peonies were once lovingly cared for by the previous owner of a house renovated by my family. Now they’ve been divided and are thriving once more.
Peonies are perhaps my favourite flower to gather from old properties. There are so many different kinds of peonies and they are all absolutely stunning to me. I often end up rescuing them after they’ve bloomed so I’m never sure what colour or type they are while I’m transplanting them. It’s been so much fun each spring waiting to see what types of peonies will appear!
Peonies do best when transplanted in the fall. I carefully dig them up at the end of the day and then come back the next morning to divide them and bring them to their new home. I’ve also had to transplant peonies in the heat of summer because that was the only chance to save them. All of the peonies I’ve transplanted during summertime have survived, possibly because of the attention paid to keeping them moist. I’ve noticed that watering them thoroughly both before and after transplanting has really helped them through the process.
These irises from my front yard were transplanted from a residential construction site before we started the final landscaping.
Irises are a lovely perennial that are relatively easy to transplant. They come in a variety of colours, making them a surprise for next year if you rescue them after they’ve bloomed. I moved the irises pictured above from the front garden bed of a house that was to be renovated. We had no idea what colour they would be! I was so thrilled when they turned out to be this lovely dark purple shade.
Iris plants appreciate being divided on a regular basis. If the plants you’re transplanting have not been divided for many years, you may find that the rhizomes have become overcrowded. I generally choose the smaller fresh baby rhizomes to transplant into the new location. Irises do well when divided and transplanted in late summer or early fall. I’ve also transplanted them in early spring with good results.
These daylilies have been moved and divided several times to produce many plants for a border garden.
Daylilies are another easy plant to rescue from an existing garden. An established daylily plant can be split into many small plants to create a nice floral border or patch. Most daylilies in our area are a bright yellow colour but it’s possible to find them in orange and pink as well. Fortunately, they’re very forgiving to transplant.
Daylilies do best when transplanted in the spring or fall. That being said, I’ve had to transplant them in full bloom before and they’ve survived to bloom the following year. They really are one of the more reliable perennials to transplant. Daylilies transplanted later in the spring may not bloom that year but those transplanted in the fall will likely bloom the next year provided they get enough sun.
Tulips and other early perennial flowers bring classic colour to the garden in early spring when we need it the most!
Tulips, daffodils, and other spring bulbs are classic perennial bloomers in cottage gardens. Many old houses and homesteads have perimeter gardens full of these lovely flowers. There is an empty lot just down the street from us where an old house was taken down. Even though the house is gone, the old front border garden appears each spring when the rows of bright red tulips come up.
I move tulips and other spring bulbs from their existing location in the late fall. Transplanting in the fall is much easier when the plants have been tagged for transplant while they bloom in the spring. I like to take photos of blooming spring bulbs with my phone in the springtime. That way I can pull the photo up on a GPS map in the fall and know where the plant is and what the flowers look like. I’ve had mixed success transplanting tulips in the summertime. It's all too easy to damage the bulbs, so it’s more reliable to transplant them after they’ve bloomed (and hopefully once they’re dormant).
Old gardens (just like old houses) will appreciate a bit of fresh love!
Perennial flowers are often accompanied by wonderful stories about the gardeners who grew them years ago. By transplanting these treasured plants into our current gardens, we are continuing the traditions and stories of these historical gardeners. Even the most modern of gardens can include a little something extra by adding a perennial with historical or sentimental value.
What are your favourite perennial flowers to rescue from old gardens? Do you have a particularly sentimental plant or something with an interesting history in your garden?